Kids Can Get Winter Blues Too
The days are getting shorter and with darker days, some people feel like their mood is getting darker. While some people thrive in the spirit of the cozy season, enjoying hygge , others feel sad, withdrawn, or even depressed during the winter months—even children are not immune to the “winter blues.”
We spoke with Dr. Hansa Bhargava, Chief Medical Officer at Medscape Education, about what to do if your child seems more depressed than usual this winter.
The difference between winter blues, sadness and depression
SAD, or seasonal affective disorder , is a condition that causes feelings of depression associated with the season, usually but not always winter. Children can develop STR , but the diagnosis is usually made after a seasonal onset of symptoms for at least two years. Depression or major depressive disorder is another diagnosis that represents a persistent feeling of sadness or despair. Adults and children can get depressed, but sometimes we feel a little sad, sometimes it’s not full blown depression.
If you think your child is feeling a little down because the weather is getting colder, they may be having the “winter blues,” a temporary and treatable phase.
Signs of the Blues
Bhargava says that you are more likely to notice physical symptoms in children than in adults. “In children, bodily symptoms such as headaches or abdominal pain may occur more frequently than in adults,” she says. In addition, children “may not be interested in doing what they like.” Loss of interest in favorite activities is a sign of depression, so a short-term loss of interest makes sense, even if it’s a temporary bout of blues.
They may also appear to behave badly or rudely. “They can act or have a short fuse. Older children and teens may withdraw into themselves, spending more time in their room or on their phones, or it may affect their grades,” she says. You can attribute it to hormones or disrespect, but it could also be that they are sad.
Pay attention to routine changes as well. “Appetite can be disturbed, as can sleep,” says Bhargav. “If your child is different from his baseline, the winter blues may be to blame.” You know your child better than anyone and can tell if something is wrong.
How to Discuss the Winter Blues with Kids
The first thing to do if your child is behaving or feeling differently is to investigate. “It’s very important to try to talk to your kids,” Bhargav says. She suggests choosing a time when your child feels comfortable and is more likely to talk about how he or she feels—for example, while you are driving or during dinner.
Approach them with curiosity, not on the run. In How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish advise addressing them with more “awareness.” Say in a neutral tone, “You seem to be spending more time in your room. What to do about it? Let them talk. Listen, using only affirmative words to indicate what you are hearing (“mmm, hmm…okay”). Then try to name their feelings. This is especially important for young children with limited vocabulary. Say, “You seem to be sadder than usual.” Again, there is no analysis here. From there, you can do a few things when it comes to managing the winter blues, but often even your child, knowing you’re there for them, will help a lot.
Keep a consistent daily routine
Make sure your routines are consistent, even when the seasons don’t match – sleep is an important part of that. Bhargava says that even if daylight hours are different, bedtime should be the same throughout the year.
The diet of people often changes during the winter months. While some seasonal fluctuations are normal, and seasonal eating is considered healthy, Bhargava advises that you watch out for foods that may contain vitamin D, such as salmon, yogurt or oranges, and continue to include them in your family’s diet. (Also, let me know how you got your child to eat salmon.) Your pediatrician can advise you on how to include more vitamin D in your diet or supplements—be sure to check with them before starting a new vitamin supplement, as dosages will vary considerably. . depending on the age and height of your child.
Since you don’t train as often outside in inclement weather anymore, try to throw out some of the accumulated energy in other ways. Since exercise can help improve your mood, moving your body can help keep you both physically and mentally healthy. Play indoor sports like basketball or martial arts, or just play “Floor Is Lava” in your living room on dark, rainy nights. Even a dance party in the living room can boost your heart rate and lift your spirits.
If they’re still blue in the spring
Sometimes the winter blues don’t melt with the snow. For most children, the winter blues clears up in the spring, but “if you’re worried or if it’s prolonged, see a doctor,” says Bhargava. “If you’re feeling persistently sad or think your child is unwell, see your pediatrician or mental health professional” to find out if it’s more than just a winter bliss. Your child may be deficient in vitamins, have other health problems, or need psychological support.